Heart disease is the top cause of death both in the U.S. and worldwide. This year alone we are likely to see nearly 700,000  Americans die for reasons directly related to heart disease, including heart attack, stroke, and other fatal events. Despite evidence that regularly consuming red meat (which is high in saturated fat) elevates one's lifetime risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association (AHA) has allowed the sellers of lean red meat to add "Heart-Check" labels to the packaging.

The AHA's website states that the "Heart-Check Food Certification Program is designed to help consumers make informed choices about the foods they purchase." It goes on to describe how to get a heart certification for food makers and indicates that anyone trying to eat healthier should look for this label as a signpost that this food is healthy.

AHA check mark

This week, the animal rights group Animal Outlook decided to legally challenge the AHA's labeling of red meat as "healthy" in a lawsuit filed in Superior Court in the District of Columbia. The suit claims that these labels mislead customers into thinking that red meat is a heart-healthy food.

The American Heart Association asserts that products that get to use the Heart-Check certification are vetted by a "robust certification process" and that the brands carrying the label have to reapply every year to continue to use the label on their products.

The lawsuit states that the AHA is simply following the government’s minimum standards and that AHA is not adding more rigor than what the FDA already presents as acceptable levels of fat per day. The suit claims that eating red meat poses health risks to consumers who are under the belief that a heart check indicates that the food is “heart-healthy” when it is not.

The World Health Organization categorized red meat (such as beef, lamb, and pork) and processed meats as "Group 2A "carcinogens and recommended limiting or avoiding red meat consumption for health to low one's cancer risk. As far as heart disease, cardiologists such as Dr.Joel Kahn tell cardiac patients that studies have found that a diet high in saturated fat is not recommended because saturated fat has been linked to higher cholesterol and increased risk of heart disease. Animal protein such as red meat contains saturated fat.

Even lean meat, such as the kind that gets the heart check label, still can have 5 or so grams of saturated fat. The limit for total saturated fat per day is 13 grams, according to the AHA, so one serving of lean red meat is at least one-third of your entire recommended daily intake, by the AHA's own standards.

The optimal diet for someone trying to prevent or reverse heart disease and related symptoms is actually to avoid saturated fat and instead eat a whole-food plant-based diet free of oil.

“There are layers of problems and deceptions here,” Cheryl Leahy, Executive Director of Animal Outlook told Plant Based News. “If you’re a consumer and you go to the store and you see this [heart-check label], there is no way that you’d believe that a well respected and well-known charity would be anything but focused on the science and the facts of whether something actually comports with their mission as a charity.”

Meat as a Threat to Consumer Health

Animal Outlook’s lawsuit claims that the AHA is fully aware of the long-term heart risks posed by eating red meat, noting that the AHA has actually published a report that found that higher meat intake is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. The AHA also claims that proteins high in saturated fats (such as red meat) can increase one's risk of heart disease.

Before filing the lawsuit, Animal Outlook delivered a letter to the AHA requesting that the organization reconsider its decision to certify some cuts of red meat as heart-healthy. The AHA allegedly denied this request.

“In our minds, the American Heart Association is doing a great disservice to the people whose health they have worked so diligently for nearly a century to protect," Leahy said. "We are calling for the organization to end these misleading paid endorsements and reimburse consumers deceived by this deceptive marketing,” Leahy said. “For nearly 100 years the American Heart Association has made it its mission to educate consumers on healthy living.

“That’s why it is so incongruous that they are now selling these pay-to-play heart healthy certifications for the very meat products they have publicly taken a position against.”

Eating Meat Raises Risk of Heart Disease

This August, new research better clarified the connection between meat consumption and heart disease. The research showed that the organic compound TMAO produced in the digestive tract after consuming red meat increases the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. TMAO leads to blockages, making meat consumption highly dangerous to the heart and greater cardiovascular health.

Heart disease is the world's "silent killer" but a growing body of research suggests that dietary changes can help prevent the deadly disease. Last July, a study found that red meat consumption increases your risk for heart disease by 18 percent, noting that high levels of sodium, TMAO, and saturated fat cause these complications.

By reducing red and processed meat consumption. consumers can avoid heart troubles well into the future. One report found that adopting a plant-based or plant-centered diet between the ages of 18 to 30 can help reduce the risk of heart disease 30 years later.

Want to incorporate heart-healthy meals into your diet? Check out The Beet's heart-healthy recipes! 

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